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Tilting at Windmills

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February 19, 2011

A GOOD DEAL SCOTT WALKER IS CERTAIN TO REFUSE.... Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) insists his union-busting plan is simply about the budget. He created a fiscal mess for himself, and now he wants to improve the budget on the backs of public employees.

If Walker were sincere about this -- he's not, but if he were -- the governor should gladly embrace an offer like this one.

The head of the largest state workers union said Friday that his group is willing to give in to Gov. Scott Walker's demand for concessions on their benefits if the governor gives up his bid to repeal nearly all bargaining rights for public worker unions.

Marty Beil, head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, which represents some 23,000 blue-collar state workers, said his group would agree to pay more of their pension contributions and health insurance benefits.

"We are prepared to implement the financial concessions proposed to help bring our state's budget into balance, but we will not be denied our God-given right to join a real union...we will not -- I repeat we will not -- be denied our rights to collectively bargain," Beil said in a statement.

As Jamelle Bouie noted, "If Walker were acting in good faith, then this would be a win-win situation: Workers keep their right to collectively bargain, and the governor can close the budget shortfall."

But as is painfully clear, Walker's goals go well beyond improving the budget shortfall that he created, and acting in good faith is the furthest thing from his mind. The conservative governor could strike a deal immediately and get all the cuts he wants from state employees. The problem of course, is that he's also demanding superfluous union-busting measure, not to improve the budget, but just because he feels like it. Taking away workers' collective bargaining rights won't save Wisconsin money, but it will crush labor, which is the point of the endeavor.

Indeed, it's worth emphasizing that these public-sector workers are ready to accept less pay, but the governor refuses to even talk to them.

Also note, before Democrats handed Walker a budget surplus he immediately eliminated, the former Democratic majority faced an even bigger budget shortfall a couple of years.

They managed to close it, and get the budget back on track, without crushing unions. Imagine that.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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Walker is just emulating his hero, Ronald Reagan.

Posted by: karen marie on February 19, 2011 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

"Walker is just emulating his hero, Ronald Reagan.
Posted by: karen marie on February 19, 2011 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK"

That should be - "Walker is just emulating his hero, the totally made-up fictional icon that they now call Ronald Reagan.

Posted by: Mark-NC on February 19, 2011 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

And the unions are just emulating the Democrats by pre-conceding. Nothing should be on the table until everything is on the table.

Posted by: martin on February 19, 2011 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

Thank you! We have said we would make the financial concessions repeatedly. HE WILL NOT ACCEPT. This is about who will blink first in the battle for workers' rights. Keep covering what he is doing!

Posted by: Cphil on February 19, 2011 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

And now they're busing teabaggers into Madison for a counter protest. This has Really Bad Idea written all over it. I wonder if these clowns with manufactured frustration and hatred of unions - ginned up by the hands of Fox news and billionaires - will vent their anger with second amendment remedies.

This is terrifying to me.

Posted by: MsJoanne on February 19, 2011 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

A healthy democratic people rely on compromise as the crux of democratic solutions to civic problems. Authoritarians will not recognize grievances, let alone compromise with their political adversaries to solve civic problems!

Watching Walker, in action this past couple weeks, has lead me to believe the not-so-dear Governor leans toward the later, and not the former!

Walker may just believe in slavery! Who knows? Maybe child labor at cut cost savings for his pals in industry is all he's seeking!

Whatever Walker wants, his actions are the tell, and he must have real hatred in his heart for Middle Class Americans! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 19, 2011 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

Breitbart and the Teabaggers are coming to rescue Wisconsin’s Governor.

I hope the protesters watch their lines, because I’m sure General Breitbart will try to outflank them using his newly formed “Teabagging 1st Madison Motorized Medicare Scooter Cavalry Division.”

He may try to bait the protesters by having Teabaggers with walkers and wheelchairs try to probe the center of their lines, sacrificing them for the benefit of his cavalry.
Oh, the humanities!

It could be a long sustained cavalry attack, as long as the batteries hold out, or unless they strategically brought spares with them.

Seriously, I hope things stay peaceful.
But you know Breitbart and his Koch-sucker supported minions will do everything in their power to goad the protesters into doing something that will put all of them in a bad light.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on February 19, 2011 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

This is the beginning of the Citizens United/Koch takeover of the country. Does anyone know if it si true that this bill also has cuts to the medicaid program and help for the poor?

Posted by: Joan on February 19, 2011 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

On one website this morning I saw a picture of the protests in Egypt - A man was holding a sign -saying 'Solidarity with Wisconsin'.

Posted by: j on February 19, 2011 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

@martin - I'd ordinarily agree with you, but Steve's point is that this concession lays bare Walker's true intentions for all to see.

Having said that, doesn't the Unions' concession help validate Walker's claim that they are the reason for the deficit?

Posted by: Kiweagle on February 19, 2011 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

MarkNC, no, I think Walker is imitating the real Reagan. He runs up a deficit with tax cuts -- check. He busts a legitimate union of public employees (think PATCO) -- check. Will he then raise taxes while distracting people with tough talk about foreign policy? One problem, however, since as a governor he doesn't have the ability to invade and occupy a tiny Caribbean island nation for cheap thrills and patriotic parades.

Posted by: T-Rex on February 19, 2011 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

@martin - I'd ordinarily agree with you, but Steve's point is that this concession lays bare Walker's true intentions for all to see.

Only if people "see" it and respond accordingly. Suppose Walker does a turnaround and says"OK, we'll start with slashing your pay and benefits, what else are you willing to give up?" He appears reasonable, the workers get screwed and then have to negotiate getting screwed some more. At the very least the unions should be negotiating for a repeal of the tax cuts that Walker signed into law last year.

Posted by: martin on February 19, 2011 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

This is a direct assault on the foundations of the middle class. People better wake up and fight back against the corporate takeover of America before it's too late.

I'm just spit balling ideas here.

1) Every union in America should make sure that they divest completely from anti-union companies. How much teacher union retirement funds are invested with Koch and other such companies?

2) We should push for constitutional amendment that clarifies that Bill of Rights applies to individuals and not corporations. Corporations do not have an unabridged right flood political campaigns with cash and claim it as free speech.

Posted by: DK on February 19, 2011 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Walker's attack on organized labor is at least a test to see if the time is right for the corporatocracy to drive a stake into the already damaged American worker's heart. It already looks like the advanced guard of a coordinated attack by the corporate money behind the Teabaggers (the Koch brothers and their ilk) that elected these governors and legislators in 2010. If this reactionary effort works in Wisconsin it will certainly be repeated everywhere, and the place to take a bold stand is in Wisconsin.

Comfortable Democratic leaders are now so far from their labor roots, and so addicted to corporate money, that they no longer know how to mount the necessary battle to send Walker back to his cave. Organized labor has been hollowed out by thirty years of anti-labor administrations, Rethug and Democratic alike, which has moved so many manufacturing jobs to Mexico, China and India, and destroyed the middle-class in mid-West. Yes, I'm talking about the ever loveable Bill Clinton too.

What it will take to light a hot fire under the Democrats with a super cautious and timid Trojan Horse president like Obama I don't know. His first two years in office have been distinguished by his repeated attacks on his progressive base, which is now no longer singing his praises as a Messiah for what ails America. He has conceded major issues, like the public opition in healthy care, and tax cuts to the rich, to the Rethugs without even a fight. His rational policy changes, and nods in the direction of his liberal constituency have been mere crumbs from the table. He is not the change agent he sold us in 2008, and has done much to set up a complete takeover of the government by the Right in 2012. Whether this is a deliberate strategy on his part or not the result is the same. How he handles this labor crisis will be another defining moment for him, but so far his track record gives him a grade of D-. Every time a major defining issue is on the table my expectations are raised that Obama will finally make a bold statement for Democratic values and for democracy. And each time I'm disappointed. I expect to be disappointed again.

The corporatocracy has no problem with democracy as long as they run it their way. A perfect meld of government and business has been tried before. It's call fascism, and that's what we're really fighting now. Anyone in the labor movement knows what a company union is, and that's what big money want for this country: a gloss of democracy behind which business interests are in charge. They're almost there now, and Wisconsin may be labor's Dunkirk.

Posted by: rrk1 on February 19, 2011 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

This comports with the experience of relatives of mine who work with unions all the time and are engaged in binding arbitration. The right wing slander is that unions will insist on maintaining their wages and benefits even during times of real crisis, to the detriment of the company or government they work for. By and large, this is just a falsehood and lie.

Rather than see the organization that writes their checks go under, unions almost always are willing to make good faith concessions for the good of the whole just so long as they are confident the pain is shared equally and by all. Why wouldn't they. It's suicide for unions to see their company go bankrupt when all of their contracts would then be negated anyway.

From management's perspective, however, crisis both real or manufactured are a perfect opportunity to do exactly what Governor Walker is doing here -- engage in a grab for power that retakes for management all of the discretionary powers that management had to cede to labor when unions had better cards to play.

This is not about economics. This is about politics and power. Conservatives, being essentially authoritarian and hierarchal by nature, hate to see so much power in the hands of "the masses," in this case unionized labor.

Read conservative blogs and commentators and there is a hardly-disguised outrage that workers have any power at all. They can't say that directly of course without giving away their elitist symapthies. So, the way they express that animosity of the laboring classes is to pit "government unions" against voters and "taxpayers" -- and sometimes democracy itself -- when right wing governors are elected and then prevented by public sector unions from essentially wiping out the rights and gains of labor in the cause of doing what right wingers always want to do: concentrate near absolute public power in the hands of conservative elites and executives.

The dead giveaway that conservatives are not really concerned about "democracy" or the consent of the governed is that they evince almost no concern at all when right wing billionaires are given the go-ahead by a right wing Supreme Court to flood the political system with cash in order to give those very same voters and taxpayers supposedly terrorized by public sector unions the best government that money can buy.

Posted by: Ted Frier on February 19, 2011 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

I never understand why anyone with less than a million dollars a year votes Republican.

Posted by: Daniel Kim on February 19, 2011 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

Stand strong, Wisconsin - you hold fast, you will beat The Bastard Scott Walker and his puppeteers, the Koch Brothers.

Posted by: EdgewaterJoe on February 19, 2011 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Are average American conservatives that stupid? Do they not know anything about the history of labor unions in this country? Yea, corruption entered into unions the same way it gets into anything that acquires power,BUT the overall improvements to labor practices in this country for the common worker dwarfs the corruption. The conservative elite in this country will not be satisfied until we return to kings,lords, and ladies (corps, rich) and of course THE SERFS (all the rest of us).

Posted by: Chris on February 19, 2011 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

It is a pretty simple equation for me. When my parents were sick and dying in small towns in MI and northern WI, I know that the poor schlumps who emptied bedpans, cleaned sheets, and at all times were kind, respectful, and decent to my parents [in publically funded facilities] were members of AFSCME. I am sure the union provided them a decent set of working conditions, collectively agreed on contracts, etc..

I will thank those people, and their union rights and protections, to the very day I die.

Posted by: bigtuna on February 19, 2011 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

We should not concede even the, well, concessions. The budget 'crisis' is all made up. Walker claims he has to bust the union because he wants to give local governments the ability to balance their budgets; but he also cut out police and fire fighters from the union busting. Those two are the biggest budgets for local gov'ts. And what he's doing to Badgercare is worse than just cutting healthcare to poor people. He has set himself up as the one who decides what they will provide. In essence, eliminating any debate on the subject at all. KING WALKER. Zieg Heil.

Posted by: buckyblue on February 19, 2011 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

Do these concessions suggest the unions think they have a weak hand? Like it or not, unions are not popular among the American people, and it's hard to be optimistic that they're going to win in the court of public opinion.

Posted by: Ronnie P on February 19, 2011 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

I never understand why anyone with less than a million dollars a year votes Republican.

Explanation #1) Because they hope that one day they might win the lottery, allowing them to become the local Lord and command the serfs. Just in case that happens, they want to make sure there are still serfs, even if they have to be one until the magic check arrives.

Explanation #2) The repub governor cut education spending when they were in school, so they're too dumb to figure out they are voting against their own interests.

Posted by: Tim H on February 19, 2011 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

As a state worker, I'd like to point out that the cost concessions the Wisconsin governor is asking for are actually less than what we're experiencing here in Washington -- a blue state. Yes, Walker's tax cut/budget crisis gambit is tawdry, but Wisconsin state workers also have an inordinately good deal, particularly on health care.

Thus, it makes sense to me for the unions to concede ground on the budget if it strengthens their position on collective bargaining. Unions need to pay attention to the political optics.

Posted by: Dr Lemming on February 19, 2011 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Wisconsin state workers also have an inordinately good deal, particularly on health care.

Why is this always presented as a bad thing? Good for them. They fought for, bargained for, and earned it and they should damn well fight to keep it. A CEO would do no less for his perks and bonuses.

Everyone should be fighting to get the same "inordinately good deal" or better.

Where's the IWW when we need them?

Posted by: martin on February 19, 2011 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: Jack H. on February 19, 2011 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

A couple responses from here in Cheeselandia:

First, what gets non-union folks all riled up about our compensation packages is the only part they typically can find out about: pension and health care contributions. (They generally have no idea what we're paid or what we're paid to do.) When they see "0%" employee contribution to pension and "6%" contribution toward health care premiums, they get extremely pissed because that's way better than what they get and stop listening to the rest of the discussion. What the governator has demanded-- in the public's mind-- is for us to help fill a huge hole in the state budget. (Never mind that the hole is really not nearly as large as the number being thrown around, or the fairness of the fact that only taxpayers being made to fill that hole are the ones who are public employees.)I think publicly conceding the economic issues was as good a PR move as we could make under the circumstances. It truly makes the governor's position appear far less reasonable. The reality is that we almost certainly would have conceded the money on this contract anyway.

Second, last I saw, while Sarah Palin was not actually going to be here, Joe the Plumber is. I am missing that part of the campaign. Although it is a beautiful sunny afternoon, I am not manning the barricades today. I truly need a little break from the tension and stress. (My wife, however, just left for the Capitol. I told her not to talk to teabaggers and if she hears gunshots, hit the ground.) Things are pretty tense around our house: my wife is a teacher, I work for the state and also sit on our sons' school board. Our first meeting since SB11 was announced is Monday night. Should be a treat.

Posted by: Wihntr on February 19, 2011 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

If slashing collective bargaining rights is so important, why are the police and firefighters exempt?

Posted by: MichaelF on February 19, 2011 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Martin, you have it exactly right.

The wealthy are the ones with the "inordinately good deal." Witness Limbaugh's $50 million to $80 million a year while the middle class hard earned wages are deteriorating.

Unions should be asking for more, not giving up constantly to usury.

Posted by: Doug on February 19, 2011 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

j at 9:04: Thanks. That is the most heartening sentiment I've seen in the past month. Egypt and Wisconsin are thousands of miles apart, but it's fundamentally the same struggle.

Posted by: tamiasmin on February 19, 2011 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

I live in Milwaukee, and am just back from Madison.

The Madison police estimate that there were approximately 60,000 people there today -- of which, *at most* 2,000 were the Tea folks. Their presence was constrained to one corner of the Capitol building, where they were completely surrounded by protesters carrying signs indicating they were NOT with the Tea Party. (Best sign in that regard: "In Wisconsin, we drink beer, not tea.") There were also a few pro-Walker people along the streets, but, really, small groups of 2 or 3 at a time, only.

It is tremendously energizing to be there -- and the amount of education happening as people talk and share knowledge and perspective is impressive.

But it is going to be along haul to sustain it.

There needs to be more news -- and more blog -- coverage.

Posted by: midwestFrances on February 19, 2011 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

@ MichaelF: Police and firefighters are exempt because 2 unions supported Walker's campaign. The rest supported his challenger. I'll let you guess which 2. Plus, what does he care if the teachers don't like him? His kids go to private school. But if the cops won't protect him, he's screwed.

Posted by: Liz on February 19, 2011 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

Well, you see, Republicans just don't like bargaining. They are entirely consistent about this.

A few years ago, Bush and the GOP pushed through the Medicare Part D bill, in which the government was prohibited from negotiating prices with drug companies.

Now, Republicans are trying to pass a bill that would prohibit the government from negotiating wages with workers.

It's exactly the same thing. :)

Posted by: Nancy Irving on February 20, 2011 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK



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